I really liked this article. Matt’s not huge on being in the water but I know a lot of other FX kids that are total water babies. Full story can be found here.
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Disabilities no barrier to water sports success
By Willie Howard
Palm Beach Post Staff WriterThursday, May 10, 2007JENSEN BEACH — Some of the young athletes who sailed windsurfers and paddled outrigger canoes in the Indian River Lagoon on Sunday couldn’t speak, but that didn’t matter.Instructors with AccesSportAmerica are trained to help people with various disabilities learn water sports so they can become more physically fit and, in the end, more satisfied with themselves.
Water sports for athlestes with special needs
Their mission: fight the misconception that people with disabilities can’t take part in demanding sports and grow as athletes. Founded 12 years ago in Massachusetts by Ross Lilley, a windsurfer whose son has cerebral palsy, AccesSportAmerica started offering Florida programs at the U.S. Sailing Center in Martin County. It has been expanding its Florida services under the direction of Glen Kerpchar, who once owned a Jensen Beach windsurfing shop.
At the sailing center Sunday, Kerpchar worked with volunteers and other trainers to help young athletes get out on the water to practice their skills and have fun.
Athletes included 8-year-old Jo Jo Mueller, an autistic boy with bright blue eyes who enjoyed pounding a windsurfer sail like a drum before sailing with trainers.
Foster Henderson, 9, of West Palm Beach has Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes mental impairment. Foster was able to balance on a windsurfer and paddle with instructors in an outrigger canoe.
“When he started, he couldn’t paddle at all,” said his father, Kyle Henderson. Foster’s balance has improved, too, but Henderson said the fun of being on the water with a group of mostly teenage instructors is as important to his son as the exercise and skills training.
During the morning session, the athletes and instructors paddled two canoes and competed as teams named, as if by Dr. Seuss, Woo and Hoo. Their time in the outriggers included a race to shore and singing Yankee Doodle Dandee.
After lunch, Yvette Pearson of Lantana arrived with her son, Alex Dale, 9, who lives with a traumatic brain injury. Pearson and her son strapped on life jackets and climbed into an outrigger canoe for a long paddle on the Indian River. The fins of bottlenose dolphins broke the surface near the boats as they paddled into the river.
“There aren’t many things for disabled kids to do,” Pearson said. “I’ve raised him outdoors. I’m just thrilled I was able to find this.”
Josh Banks, 19, of Jupiter wasn’t comfortable paddling when he started coming to the program in October, said his father, Bob. Now Josh, who is autistic, can guide a windsurfer by himself.Lilley, the group’s founder and executive director, tells trainers to work within the participants’ limitations, but not to lower standards because of their disabilities.
“We encourage our athletes to train as athletes,” Lilley said in a letter about the program. “One step above being a couch potato is an improvement over doing nothing, but it’s hardly enough.”
Lilley should know. During a 1994 boardsailing marathon, he sailed a windsurfer with his son, then age 8, for three hours in a 2-foot chop.
AccesSportAmerica also offers kayaking, tennis, soccer and weight training, but it started with water sports. Athletes gain confidence by learning to do something outside their comfort zone, like windsurfing, Lilley said.
Jesse Torres, 9, of Port St. Lucie has a mild form of autism called Aspberger’s Syndrome and spends plenty of time playing video games. On Sunday, Armando Torres watched his son balance on a windsurfer and paddle with a group in a canoe.“
My son likes it,” Torres said. “He paddles all the way through.”